Turning the Dial – 5 Ways Your Resume Gets Read or Rejected


Think about a time where you had a song or a type of song stuck in your head – and all you had at your disposal was a radio. You turn the radio on and you start spinning the dial (or clicking the seek/find button). Some stations you sail by, others you only briefly pause to listen more before heading to the next one.

When your resume is first reviewed, it happens very quickly. For insights to why your resume may get overlooked, let’s look at why you don’t stop on some radio stations.

  1. Too much static. Much like a radio station, if you have too much static to sift through (static being too much irrelevant info that doesn’t pertain to the job that you are applying to), the hiring manager might keep clicking to the next resume.  To save yourself from this fate, cut the filler and make sure…

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Cover Letters, Objective Statements, & References – In or Out?

I get asked questions like these frequently:

  • Do I need to write a cover letter?
  • Do I need to have an objective statement?
  • Does anyone ever call references?

I’m going to answer these in one big, sweeping answer and then we’ll drill down and see what that means in terms of each individual question.  Sound good?

Rule of thumb:  Everything in your resume or in your full application package needs to matter.  Everything should be relevant to the position you are applying to and in some way speak to your skills fit, culture fit, or motivation to work at that company and in that role.  Anything that doesn’t fit that rule of thumb, can be omitted.  

Breaking the rule of thumb down:

Do I need to write a cover letter?

I give you a qualified “Yes”.  Keep in mind, a bad cover letter might do more harm than good.  A good cover letter fits within the rule of thumb (see above) perfectly.  If you are helping to illustrate any or all three big points: skills fit, culture, fit and motivation – and – if you are highlighting information that isn’t included or could be overlooked in your resume.  Don’t repeat your resume or provide information that wouldn’t be crucial to the hiring manager.  If you are tempted to use a form letter you’ve found online or only make a small variation to a template – don’t bother.  Recruiters can smell a template from a mile away.  Keep your information genuine and helpful.

Do I need an objective statement?

This is very much the same answer as the one I gave for the cover letter.  If it helps frame your resume well or gives new information that wouldn’t make sense in another section – include it.  An objective statement should be very specific to the company and position you are applying for – or maybe exist more as a “career summary” statement.  Include one of these especially if you’ve changed careers or a recruiter might have trouble making sense of your resume without a solid anchor at the beginning.

Does anyone ever call references?

Yes.  Recruiters call references, but usually not at the beginning of their recruitment process.  This is why you can leave them off your resume if you choose (unless specifically requested in a job posting).  Recruiters will ask for references if they need them and you haven’t included them on your resume.  If you leave references off, have them ready anyway.  Additionally, you do not need to include the words “references available upon request”.  This is a given.

Job Search Quick Guide: Referrals

Here’s a quick 4 resources to help you take the next step in getting referrals; asking for informational interviews.

Finding recruiters on LinkedIn is a good place to start (heck, you’re already here). You don’t always have to connect with recruiters though, you can 1. connect directly to any employee at a company – ask them to speak to you about their experience working there 2. build a rapport and 3. ask for a referral.

I have to share with you THE best blog about this type of networking. It was written by Ramit Sethi. Go read his in-depth blog about natural networking – which includes great scripts to help you reach out to people. If you are at all averse to networking but see the value in it – reading his blog is the best place to start.

If you aren’t convinced that you need to start networking to get referrals – let me share one statistic. Referrals are still a top source of hires according to the 2014 Source of Hire report by Career Crossroads.

Need a visual guide to networking your way into a job? check out this infographic created by Heather Krasna.

Get a Referral

I promised in my last post that I would discuss getting a referral – and then today when I started to write about it – I stalled. I didn’t want to do it. It seemed hard and I thought “well, they probably won’t do it anyway” (they, being you – the entire world that is not me). “Nobody ever wants to do this part” I thought to myself. Which isn’t true all the time. But people do resist it. Just like I was resisting writing this post. It is uncomfortable, it is different, and we have to talk about it. It’s the elephant in the room during every career coaching conversation. If you already know someone who works at a company you want to work for – then awesome – you are done! Ask them to recommend you. Game over. But if you don’t already know someone who works there, you need to get it over with and go meet someone. Which means doing IT. The big ugly word. The thing that sends people to support groups en masse – Networking! *Queue dramatic music*

I am not suggesting you go to massive networking events in a suit and shove business cards at people whose names you can’t remember. I am suggesting that you not do that at all.

Now – what I am suggesting is that you set a list of target companies that you are going to apply to. These are companies you really want to work for. Based on location, reputation, benefits…whatever is important to you in your search. Once you have anywhere from 3-10 target companies (if you have trouble figuring out your target company list or getting traction in your search – I also recommend this bookby Steve Dalton) I want you to start meeting and talking to people that work on those companies. We’ll talk about what those conversations look like in my next post. Today, let’s get the ball rolling with a few ideas on how to meet folks that work at your target companies:

  1. Use the advanced search tool on LinkedIn to find people who work at the target company and share another affiliation with you. Fellow alumni are a good place to start. Search company name and school together and there you go. You can also use the best feature on LinkedIn which is, the “Find Alumni” tool on the connections tab. Seriously it is gold – just go there now and use it. I’ll wait………..SEE – it is awesome. Frankly, I think it should be the most prominently featured tool on LinkedIn – it is that useful. Fellow Alums are very open to connecting and talking, so reach out.
  2. Ask friends, family, and colleagues if they know anyone that works at the target company you are focusing on. Don’t give them your whole list at once (unless they are the level of friend that have helped you move houses before – because the whole list at once is that level of imposition). It is so easy for someone to think through their friends and see if they know anyone that works at one company. If they don’t know anyone – the follow-up question is “Do you know anyone who *might* know someone that works there?” Follow-up on any leads anyone ever gives you. Then thank them. Lather, rinse, repeat.
  3. Go to events that are hosted by the company or that employees are likely to attend. This could be anything from a tailgate at your alma mater, a chamber of commerce breakfast, a software meetup group, or a professional association conference. It’s easier than ever to figure out where companies are likely to engage with you socially. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or check out their own website/event page to see what they have going on in the near future. Check out your Alumni Association events for your area. Look up the events for professionals in your specialization or industry (with a keen eye to vendors and sponsors). If you are targeting the right groups – you’re likely to meet someone valuable even if you don’t strike immediate pay dirt.

Hopefully those first ideas three have your wheels turning. This first step is figuring out ways to meet folks where you want to work. That’s the only thing you have to do in round one; engage your network and figure out who you need to speak with.

Tomorrow I’ll focus on how to ask a new contact for a conversation (in certain circles this is known as an informational interview – but I’m aware that most people don’t use that phrase) and we’ll explore what that conversation might look like, including what you need to ask.

Happy, easy networking!

How do I customize my resume?

It’s a common piece of advice: “Customize your resume each time you apply to a job.” But what does it mean? It just means that you need to edit your resume to highlight what is most important each time you apply to a job. Here’s how to do it without spending too much time, without being dishonest, and without looking like a completely different person each time you apply to a job.

1. Scan the job description for key words that you should highlight in your resume. These words can be skills, requirements, experiences, certifications – basically anything that seems to be important to the employer when they describe who they are looking for. Customizing your resume is about including the right elements and making sure they are visible – not inventing experience, skills, or knowledge you don’t have. The key for customizing is that you are just bringing important elements to the forefront.

2. Have a “Highlighted Skills” section at the top of your resume. A three column list of skills near the beginning of your resume is an easy way to bring skills to the attention of an employer. It is also an easy place to begin customizing your resume when you apply for a job. Once you’ve discovered the most essential requirements, update this section first.

3. Use your highlighted skills updates as a guide. Once you’ve updated the skill section – use that list as a guide to review the rest of your resume. Make sure that those key skills rise to the top of your bullet-ed lists for each position on your resume, so employers can easily see in which positions you used those skills.

Okay – I’m about to change gears here. I’ve given you three tips above that will help you quickly customize your resume -so that you are free to do the stuff that really matters in your job search. Which leads me to tip #4…

4. Don’t spend all of your time on your resume (here’s why). Get a Referral.Now that you’ve tailored your resume and have a good idea of what is important to the employer – also speak to a current employee and get a referral. The referral is the most important part. A referral will get your resume looked at and has a good chance of getting you a call for an interview. I’ll talk about cultivating referrals in my next post. Breathe, it’s simpler than you think.


I cannot prepare you for change. But I don’t need to. You are well versed in change. Changes have been happening to you since birth. You’ve made it through the collosal changes of your teen years (and if you haven’t – you are in for quite time!), you’ve probably moved homes a couple times, began and ended relationships, and swtiched jobs/roles/industries enough that it would have convinced your relatives in earlier decades that you had become a grifter. You are an expert.

Consider this your change master certification. Print it and hang it up on your wall. Stuff has happened to you, around you, and because of you – and you made it through. Even though you are a pro, you still probably have to figure out how to cope with the stress and uncertainty that accompanies change. I’m going to remind you of the things that you already know. Hopefully this will help you feel the calm that only a seasoned, certified expert such as yourself would feel:

1. You have a great survival rate so far. If you are reading this – 100%.

2. For every person suggesting you won’t succeed in something new, there are probably a handful or more of people that can tell you how well you’ve done things in the past (and that’s a pretty good indicator that you can do things well in the future).

3. If something has not worked for you in the past, you’ve adjusted and found something that would work … or you’ve known when to walk away.

4. When you care about what you are doing, you don’t accept excuses – just results. It’s made you a great person to work with, for, and around. It also has made you resilient which is an excellent trait for someone navigating changing seas.

5. Pain lessens over time. Professional change can be felt just as keenly as pain you experience in your personal life. Time helps heal both too.

6. You have people in your corner. Look at all of the people you are connected with on here. Having a network means the world. Keep these folks close and keep them in-the-know. You really never know who can help you over the next hurdle (or more importantly, who YOU can help).

7. Breathe.